Category Archives: Hawks

Raptors in Harm’s Way

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

Late in the day on Monday we were driving on the Georgia Tech campus and a Cooper’s Hawk flew low right in front of the car, barely missing us.  A split second prior to seeing the bird, a squirrel raced across the street in a straight-line hurry.   He was not doing the indecisive squirrel thing that they do in the middle of the road, but running full out.  Clearly the squirrel was in the hawk’s sights.

How often does this happen?  A little homework revealed that it happens much more often than  you might think.  Here’s what we’ve learned.

Urban raptors that we see here are mainly hawks (Cooper’s, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered) and owls (Screech-, Barred and Great Horned).  Hawks are daytime hunters while owls hunt at night, but both may be seen in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus

Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus

Cooper’s Hawks and owls look for prey from a perch and then move quickly to pounce on a prey animal (‘perch-and-pounce’).  During a chase, these birds are laser focused on their prey, and because their eyes are fixed to the front they often miss objects coming from the side.

Cooper’s Hawks will fly fast and low to the ground, then up and over an obstruction to surprise prey on the other side. [1]

The side of a highway or a city street is an ideal spot for urban perch-and-pounce raptors.  This time of year, the leaves are off the trees and rodents and squirrels have less tall grass and ground cover in which to hide.

Wildlife rescue organizations say that winter brings an uptick in raptor collisions with vehicles.  Speculation is that the increase is attributed to two groups: young first-year birds who don’t yet know the ropes and migrants.  Both groups would be unfamiliar with the territory and the roads. [2]

Although raptors are fast and agile, they are no match for fast-moving vehicles.

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

So, when driving in town, especially in urban neighborhoods with lots of trees and good hunting spots, slow down.  If you see a squirrel, chipmunk or small rodent racing across the street, hit the brakes.  Not just to save the squirrel, but because a raptor may be close behind.  Drive like your children and wildlife live here.

If you hit a raptor and it is still alive, try to get it to an animal rescue facility quickly.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Cornell – All About Birds:  Cooper’s Hawk
[2]  Audubon Society of Portland:  Winter Raptors
[3]  HawkWatch:  Risks to Raptors
[4]  City Wildlife:  Raptors in Our City

Hungry!

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis
Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - July, 2016

Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis

Mid-day today we heard the insistent begging call of a juvenile hawk.  It was so loud and went on so long, we thought something might be wrong, but it turns out he was just hungry!    We finally spotted him in a large pine next door.  The parent was close by and buzzed us on our deck.

We naturally assumed he was a Cooper’s, having just watched a brood fledge across the street.   We sent pictures to our neighborhood ornithologist expert and friend.  Surprise – a Red-tailed Hawk!   This is great news because it means Red-tails have successfully nested here.

Look up and check the mature pines in our neighborhood for this young Red-tailed Hawk family.

Children at Play

We just knew you’d be interested in a further report on the recently fledged Cooper’s Hawks  (see Monthly Journal, – June 2016 and Cooper’s Hawk Triplets). Yesterday Bruce sent more great photos of two of them enjoying themselves in his bird bath.  Thanks Bruce!

Monthly Journal – June, 2016

June was hot and dry.  Everybody’s looking for shade and water.  As a follow up to our last post, Bruce Hallett sent us three great photos of one of the juvenile Cooper’s Hawks enjoying his birdbath, which are below.  There is still nesting going on and the birdhouse on the Nature Trail closest to the garden area has a brood of Carolina Wren chicks.  They are keeping their parents busy and making so much noise you can hear them 25 feet away.  Remember there are those who are just beginning to nest, such as American Goldfinches ( see our blog from July last year Late Starters).

Cooper’s Hawk Triplets

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii
Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - June, 2016

Cooper’s Hawk with a food delivery

Our neighbors across the street sent us a message last night that they were watching three juvenile Cooper’s Hawks playing on a limb 90 feet above their house in a tall pine.  90 feet is so high it hurts your neck to look up.

Our ornithologist friend who lives next door to the nesting hawks said he has seen a lot of them lately in his back yard. He’s had a great time watching them in his trees and bird bath.

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii
Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - June, 2016

1 of 3 juvenile Cooper’s Hawks

His observation is that the three juveniles have just fledged and are getting their sea legs.  They’ll stay close by for a while and may even rendezvous at the nest for a few days.  The parents will most likely supplement their food supply a bit longer.  Today they were all in the trees calling to each other back and forth.  We were unable to get a picture of the three together, but will keep a close eye out and post an update if we do.

Fifty years ago Cooper’s Hawks were in real trouble–their numbers were low and declining. But they have adapted to urban living and now seem to be doing very well.  We see them all the time in our neighborhood.

Pine 7

Cooper’s Hawk nest 90 feet up

This emphasizes the importance of pines.  Some people prefer hardwoods, but pines are also a critical part of our area’s  ecology and are a significant resource for nesters, including these Cooper’s Hawks, Barred Owls, and all sorts of wildlife.

The neighbors with the hawks planted a Longleaf Pine when they moved here several years ago.  It’s quite tall and stately now, and will be magnificent some day.  Consider planting one in your yard.

Sunday Brunch

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii Peachtree Park - July 27, 2015

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii
Peachtree Park – July 27, 2015

We’ve been hearing calls that we thought were the Pileated Woodpecker, but they didn’t quite sound right.  We didn’t think they were the calls of a Cooper’s Hawk either.

And then late this morning we spotted this juvenile Cooper’s hawk 75-80 feet up at the top of a large oak behind our yard making begging calls for food.  We think he’s a juvenile because of the thin dark streak on his chest, best seen in the photo below. This bird was on the move and was off again quickly.  Watch out those of you who look like a hawk morsel!

Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii Peachtree Park - July 27, 2015

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii
Peachtree Park – July 27, 2015